Back when I was an elementary school lad, going to Wednesday catechism classes, I learned about ridiculously outdated doctrines of the Catholic Church. Although the church is still relatively backwards thinking, I had somehow known at the time that what we were being spoon-fed seemed even more antiquated than usual. We were told about limbo, purgatory and all sorts of different medieval thinking. One that sticks out in my mind is the idea of mortal versus venial sins. These are essentially the religious equivalent of felonies and misdemeanors, respectively. Mortal sins (like lust and masturbation, apparently) send you directly to hell should you not ask for forgiveness, which means pretty much every male in existence is in danger of eternal damnation. Venial sins (like, say, forgetting to pay for a grape you ate in the grocery store) only send you to purgatory. What amazed me was that I hadn’t realized that God was such a bureaucrat. The afterlife didn’t sound so much like eternal bliss so much as it sounded like English League Football where heaven is the Premiere League and hell is League Two. What does any of this have to do with Thomas D’Arcy, electro-pop and gunplay metaphors? Well, just that Small Sins has a new album called Mood Swings, that’s what
Last year’s Small Sins, D’Arcy’s self-titled Astralwerks debut, found the synth-driven singer / songwriter pushing away the comparisons to the Postal Service and Grandaddy, though the similarities were plainly evident, and instead trying to convince listeners of his love for Neil Young. With Mood Swings, those claims are a little more evident. For instance, along with the keyboards in “Morning Face,” we hear a plaintive banjo and handclaps playing along with D’Arcy’s deeper, more soulful vocals. “What Your Baby’s Been Doing” takes more of a liking to recent songs from the likes of Spoon, Feist and maybe the Flaming Lips. It’s straightforward, bouncy and catchy, like “I Turn My Camera On,” but with more of an ELO feel to it. “On the Line” could find Small Sins some modest radio airplay, as it’s somewhat the Shiny Toy Guns single-worthy effort, similar to “Stay” from the last album.
“On the Line” is one of maybe half of the songs featuring a gun reference. Rather than being an album in support of the NRA, however, it’s more of a thematic metaphor for emotions boiling at the surface, with his narrators being on a hair trigger. Such is the case with the McCartney-esque “On the Run,” a song finding someone at the brink of explosion, where he urges someone to bring their .45with them when they go `on the run.’ He then even turns one of his bandmates’ names, Kobakov, into a gun reference, like a Kalashnikov, I suppose. Despite venturing into new musical ground in different tracks, such as the above listed songs “Morning Face” and “What Your Baby’s Been Doing” as well as the more meditative “On a Mission,” the XTC sound of “Holiday,” and the stunning acoustic guitar and twangy lap steel closer, “Bullet,” Small Sins still retains a good portion of what people may have loved about their previous record. “On the Line” and “We Will Break Our Own Hearts” are twitchy electro-dance gems that will surely make fans of the indie dance oriented. However, I highly recommend “Bullet” as one of the best tracks D’Arcy’s written.
Mood Swings is aptly titled. Thomas D’Arcy and his band of Venial Sins, sorry, Small Sins, veer from the morose and meditative to the peppy and playful with ease, at least more so than on his last collection. The songs and styles are more varied, from hooky crowd pleasers to introspective downers. I was taught in those catechism classes that a whole mess of venial sins couldn’t add up to one mortal sin, but I’ll be damned if a bunch of great Small Sins tunes didn’t add up to one hell of an album.